#CultureCode: Retaining 'Startup Magic' at Scale

May 7, 2014

It can be straightforward defining culture within a small team or startup. But what happens when your startup scales? How do you retain that small-team dynamic once you start adding more roles, personalities and goals? Enter “The Billion Dollar Startup Playbook,” a Culture Code by LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions team for growing companies that want to hold on to their “startup magic.”

“Growth has the potential to strip any company of the magic, culture and nimbleness that made it successful in the first place,” says Dan Shapero, VP of LinkedIn Talent Solutions and Insight, and author of the Billion Dollar Startup Playbook. (LinkedIn Director of Sales Brett Wallace designed the deck. SlideShare is a LinkedIn company.)

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Among Shapero’s nine rules for retaining great culture while growing: Innovate locally, scale globally; listen to the frontline; make waves, don’t ride them.

Shapero says he knew he needed to create a Culture Code and galvanize his team around certain values and guidelines when he noticed employees becoming more cautious. People began worrying more about where their individual job started and ended rather than long-term success for the company as a whole.

“The larger an organization gets, the more localized success becomes,” he says. “Success is what you see around you, and as you grow in size, you feel less empowered to make change. The goal of the Billion Dollar Startup Playbook was to reinforce nine rules that fight this battle as hard as we can.”

Shapero offers 3 tips for scaling culture:

Celebrate What Matters

“Your culture is defined by who and what you celebrate,” Shapero says. “Say whatever you want, but unless you’re actually promoting and recognizing the values in your Culture Code, you’re sending the wrong signal.”

He says to first define your culture, then celebrate the wins. “That’s what employees see as success, and they emulate those behaviors. Be conscious of that.”

Stick To It Through Thick and Thin

When times are tough, it’s easy to let culture fall to the wayside. But that usually just snowballs into more difficult situations, Shapero says.

“Culture only matters if a company is willing to endure pain and stick to it,” he says. “You can measure culture by how much hardship they’re willing to go through. If you have an ass@%$# who’s delivering, do you still fire them? Otherwise culture is just for sunny days.”

Allow Room for Local Culture

As a company grows, different teams are formed, along with new offices and divisions. A Culture Code can be great reinforcement from the top down, but it’s important to leave room for cultural variants at the individual and local level, Shapero says.

“Everyone experiences it in a different way,” he says. He suggests looking at what’s common among different teams and offices around the world when creating a Culture Code, and letting those cultural pillars take on individual interpretations.

Adds Shapero: “Every great leader walks the line between what they mandate and what they power. Great leaders mandate certain cultural tenants, but let teams build local culture. A Culture Code is just a framework for what’s acceptable.”

Join the #Culture Code conversation and share how your team or company creates great culture. Download our template to get started.

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